Don’t let his impressive stature fool you; Virtual Reality Marketing CEO Terry Proto knows that, in an industry where there’s a ton of use cases and many roles to fill, it doesn’t hurt to be small. Heck, it usually pays to be! Terry joins Alan in a chat about how companies can best find their niche in the XR realm.
Alan: Welcome to the XR for Business Podcast with your host, Alan Smithson. Today’s guest is the one and only: Terry Proto. He’s the CEO of Virtual Reality Marketing. Terry is an award winning digital imaging and digital games producer. He has over 15 years of production and sales experience in the US, Europe and Asia. And he’s been creating images since the very first version of 3D Studio back in the 90s, and has evolved over the years working on myriad projects, including agency work and other products and project endeavors. In a previous life, he struggled with getting clients and visibility consistently for his own creative studio, despite the quality of his work. And after connecting with a lot of CEOs in the XR space, he realized that his problem was a widespread problem. So for the past two years, Terry and his team have been on a mission to help studios and brands better connect for everyone’s benefit. To learn more about his company, Virtual Reality Marketing.com, go to virtualrealitymarketing.com. It is my absolute pleasure to welcome Terry to the show.
Welcome to the show, Terry.
Terry: Hey, Alan. Well, thank you very much. I love the intro. It’s really an honor to be on your podcast today.
Alan: Thank you. It’s such an honor to have you on the podcast. I know we finally got to meet in person for the first time at AWE — Augmented World Expo — what, about three weeks ago now?
Terry: Yeah. We connect with so many people, and it’s all digital and it’s all remote. So it truly feels good to shake someone’s hand now. [chuckles]
Alan: I got a hug from you, which was awesome.
Terry: [laughs] Exactly.
Alan: You are a very strong man. I don’t know if you’re benchpressing Volkswagens in your spare time, but those of you who know Terry; he’s a very large, solid dude. Not just in physical stature, but in mindfulness and everything. And his passion shows through in the work that he does. I really want to start digging into that. So tell us about Virtual Reality Marketing, and talk about how you got into this.
Terry: I think you nailed it in the intro. It really started with my problem as a producer. And you know, when you’re a producer, you’re in your own silo and you’re working on those products and you’ve got your clients, your team, you’re flying around for business meetings and events. And you connect with people, but it’s more superficial. And when I stopped being a producer, I took a step back and I started talking to a lot of people. And that’s when I realized that my problem was — I wouldn’t say everyone’s problem, but very common problem — and I looked around and I couldn’t find a solution for myself for years. And I figured it would be time to hack all this and solve this for everyone.
Alan: So what is the solution that Virtual Reality Marketing is doing? You’re connecting agencies and big brands with studios. Is that correct?
Terry: Yeah, exactly. Simply put, Virtual Reality Marketing, we’re the most comprehensive directory of AR, VR, 360 studios. And we are also focusing on building the largest XR case studies library. Right now we’re close to 150 on the site, and we are on track to have 500 by next year. The problem that we try to tackle is that… I like to analogize, I like to say that VR is an hydra, as in it as many heads, and you don’t know what to do with this thing. And VR is still very much a unicorn, as in everybody talks about it, but few people have actually seen it. And that’s where we come in. So on one hand, we have brands and advertisers and anyone who’s interested in XR, to get involved in immersives. At this point, those guys realized they need to get involved, but they don’t know where to start. And it’s difficult for them to find partners they can trust. And when you’re spending, I don’t know, $50,000 on a budget for XR project, you want to make sure you’re spending your money at the right place.
Alan: Agreed. That’s one of the problems that we are trying to solve with this very podcast.
Alan: Let’s unpack that. If you’re a brand that wants to start using virtual augmented reality for marketing, what’s the first thing that you would recommend to them?
Terry: Well, the first thing is, get informed. It’s knowing about the studios. And that’s the focus we have on the case studies right now. It’s all about this. It’s like, say, I’m a brand or a company because it works for… say I’m a training company, and I’m working in medical. And I want to build this project. I don’t know if it’s possible. I had the case literally last week. Clients are coming, they’re like, “Hey, we’ve got this idea. We don’t know if it’s possible. Is it realistic? Is it unrealistic?” So, first step: looking for the case studies of what are people doing around us. And right now, it’s not like two years ago. We’re in this world where we have the case studies. We have the experience. We can demonstrate the ROI. We can demonstrate the benefits. And we’re collecting all of this information to share it easily. So short answer to your question: first step, see the relevant case studies in your industry, it’s going to inspire you, and answer tons of questions. Start from there.
Alan: I just noticed — I was scrolling through the site as you were talking — and one of the companies that we invested in, 3D Food And Drink, is on there.
Terry: Yeah, so… [laughs] It’s one of the cool things of what we do. It’s like I said, we connect with so many people and then we are like, I’m talking with you and you’re like, “Hey, this is our product.” And I’m like, “Oh, wow, we didn’t even know about it, but great.” That’s the whole point. I love when I hear that. It means we’re doing a great job.
Alan: So how do you monetize? What is your business model?
Terry: In terms of business model, we really do two things. On one hand, we have the content creators. We have them connect with studios. So we have them through the websites. We can give them more visibility through the website with several packages, share more content, be on top of the list beyond the home page. We have also a consulting offer, where we can dive deep with a studio. It’s not for everyone. It’s for select studios who are solving mission-critical problems for their clients. There, we can build an advanced lead-generation strategy, connect with a large number of leads. It’s really basically taking all of your business developments and we’re handling this for you, starting from the strategy, all the way to the living leads to the studios.
For brands and advertisers, it’s really all about connecting with relevant companies they can trust. We’ve got brands, advertisers — again, anyone interested in using AR and VR — connecting with us and saying, “we’ve got this project. We don’t even know if it’s realistic or not. But tell us.” And based on what they share with us, we can make a recommendation of, those are the right studios that you want to work with, because they’ve got the track record; because they’ve got the expertise; because they’ve got the portfolio. And then we work on commission for the recommendations.
Alan: Ok. That’s pretty awesome. What about companies that are just starting out? How do the smaller studios and startups start to build that book of business and case study library?
Terry: That’s a good question. And you know what? It’s still a world of small VR companies. So the first thing I should say is, it’s OK to be small. I know we’ve been small for a long time and in France — so not in the US — and we’ve kind of got that small company complex. It’s okay. It’s okay to be small. There are so many things to do in this industry. Everyone is starting, and you need to start somewhere. The most important [thing] is focus and relevance. You don’t want to be everything for everyone. “The jack of all trades, master of none?” That’s something you see a lot in VR. You want to focus on one problem and become the expert at solving this problem for your clients with AR, VR and other tech, you don’t need to restrict yourself to VR. Actually, the most successful companies are integrating VR into a larger vision.
Alan: What would an example of that be?
Terry: Location-based entertainment. You have your VR experience, and it’s the center and the core experience. But at the same time, you’re selling t-shirts and you’re selling drinks, which is completely low-tech and has nothing to do with VR. But it’s okay for your clients. If it’s Friday night and I want to go with my friends for some high-tech entertainment, and I start to do a laser tag and then I’m going to do VR. And then it’s Friday, so we’re going to have drinks. And the experience was cool, so I’m gonna get a t-shirt and gift it to my friends. It’s a holistic experience. It’s not just about VR. It’s about them, what they get from it.
Alan: I’ve seen a lot of location based entertainment facilities where they just set up some small square rooms with a VIVE in it. And that’s great. But what really blew me away was when I was in Dubai at VR Park, and they built the whole experience around each activity. So it may be the same VIVE as you would play in a small 10×10 room. But for example, the John Wick VR experience, and there’s like a bank vault and you’re actually going into a physical set. People don’t think about that when they’re setting up these experiences. And I think it’s really important to just get everybody really excited about this technology before they put it on their heads. And it just adds to the whole allure of it.
Terry: Exactly, exactly. It’s not just about VR. It’s about the overall experience and the overall service for your clients. And it works everywhere. You’ve got this LB example, but you have your training example on the other side of the spectrum, where you’re training people. And what matters is that they get the best experience, so some of the information you will want to have on iPhone and iPad. Some of the reporting you will want to have on the Web and some of the most expensive, most complicated, most dangerous experiences you will want to do in VR. But again, it’s a whole. And it’s not just VR. It’s also everything else.
Alan: Yeah, absolutely. So in the last month, what’s the best virtual reality or augmented reality marketing experience that you’ve seen?
Terry: Ok. So, you know, in our case, our job is to pretty much see all of them, at least as much as possible. So it’s really a difficult question for me to answer because I have to pick one.
Alan: That’s why I picked the question!
Terry: [laughs] But if I have to pick one, I’ll give you… for instance, I tend to prefer the ones that are smart, and fun, and really solve a problem. So in the last few weeks, we got this experience from a Brazilian studio, VZ Lab, and it’s the VR vaccine experience. And I love it because it’s clever and funny and it’s solving a real problem. It’s the problem of vaccination with children. Huge problem for the parents; they’re fighting with the children. And the children, some of them are literally traumatized by the things, they’re crying. Problem with the nurses, because you have to deal with conflict day in and day out.
Long story short, the studio created this experience, which is synced with what the nurse is doing in real time. So for the children, they are plunged into this immersive adventure all in 3D, it’s beautiful. And they’re going to be given a shield. The children is being warned that he’s gonna be bitten by something and it’s gonna be okay. And in real time, the nurse is doing the injection. It works like a charm. It’s beautiful. And you ask the children, they’re like, “oh, my God, that was amazing. I loved it.” No cries. No screams. No nothing. And it’s 180 degrees of something that is a huge problem for everyone. And it’s been turned into a fun, cool experience. It’s incredible.
Alan: My daughter, she’s 11, and she is literally terrified of needles.
Terry: Like I said; smart, fun, really solving a problem. It’s great. But just to give you another one, on the other end of the spectrum. Children again. So this one not as glamorous, but super useful. This time we’re talking about a therapeutic training tool and it’s about understanding the changes in the brain of a child who was suffered childhood trauma. And I think this one is built by UK studio, Ignition. And basically you’re living the experience through the eyes of the child, and you see your parents fighting, and the isolation, and the tears and everything. And in the meantime, it’s superimposed with the brain activity and you see how the brain is being restructured in real time, based on the experiences the child has lived.
Terry: And you get a different brain. So it’s really understanding and showing you how every little detail in your family life is impacting your children and how to change those behaviors, because especially when you’re young, the brain is plastic. And those are very strong connections that are really difficult. Or nearly impossible, I should say. So, another great one.
Alan: They’re on such wide spectrums of the technology. One of the things that I think is it is an issue with our industry in general — and I think maybe you can address this — is these are great experiences, but how are companies measuring the success of these? Are they doing it through earned media captures? Are they doing it through number of people that they’ve put through the experience? What are you seeing as far as the analytics and metrics around this?
Terry: It’s a good question. And I think the best answer I can give you is there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. I think in training, one of the best metrics you can get is… I’ll give you one of my favorite points. I think it’s PIXO VR, they are doing some of the best of the safety training, like first responders training, firefighters training. And it’s something that’s simply really difficult and dangerous to experience in real life. So success here is just having the experience, they’re building this amazing cinematic experience, which is exciting. It’s really literally like being in a movie. But it’s useful. It’s saving lives, because you’ve got a better team. They are better trained. You can’t train those people like this in real life because you would be putting their lives in danger. And because they’re better trained, they’re saving more lives. So that’s one of the best ROI use case I can give you. Quite literally, because you were able to be trained in a simulated dangerous environment, realistically, you know how to handle those situations. You get all of the experience that you would build a lifetime of being in danger. And that’s allowing you to save lives. That’s all the ROI you can get.
Alan: When you put it that way. I mean, what’s the ROI on a life? The last podcast I did today was with Dr. Walter Greenleaf, and Dr. Greenleaf has been in this industry for 33 years, talking about the medical use cases. He kind of broke it down into five key parts: training, assessment, intervention, health and wellness, and then the democratization of care. As we move to more precision medicine and proactive medicine, VR stands to create unlimited potential for people in underserved areas.
That’s medical; when you take it to education, it can unlock the full true democratisation of learning, globally.
Terry: Absolutely. You know what? We did have a case — I have to pay attention to what I can tell you about it — but we did have a case two weeks ago of a company in medical, working on this training for medical, and that they want to deploy in developing countries. So Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia, and basically it’s about training medical personnel, and they’ve got tons of problems to do so, because right now it’s a physical training. So it’s costing a fortune, and you need to physically move people all around the planet, literally. And then you also need to work with the local people. But they keep changing, so you don’t know of their standards. And sometimes you need to have them rise to your own standards in order to deliver good training, as opposed to VR where you can get it right once and then make sure everyone gets the right content. It’s infinitely cheaper to send to experience once again, yeah, of course.
Alan: One of the things that I keep thinking; my kids are in grade school, and one’s in high school now. And if you think about the teachers that are there — they’re wonderful people — but by no means are they the world’s expert in anything they’re teaching. And being able to harness the best possible trainer every time, that’s essential. And I think that’s really what STRIVR’s doing well, as well. They’re a company based in San Francisco that’s doing virtual reality training, and they’re able to capture the best trainers and spread them across the entire enterprise. Whereas before the best trainer, maybe you could train 20, 30 people at a time or maybe a couple of hundred throughout a year. But when you’re talking thousand employees, it’s just not scalable. You can’t send somebody on a plane to visit every employee. But in VR, you’re just setting a headset.
Alan: So what industries are you seeing that are using this the most?
Terry: Right now, I would say we’re seeing obviously the most traction is coming from training. It’s coming from medical. It’s coming from marketing as well. But marketing is a different beast, because whereas in training and in medical it’s really about – again — solving those mission critical problems. In marketing, often it’s more into nice-to-have cool experiences, so you see trends. For instance, VR for trade shows was a huge trend two years ago. And this winter we had like the big AR craze; AR everything. But that’s a big one. That’s still a very big one.
Not so big ones: travel, real estate– like, real estate, surprisingly, what we see is that the obvious case study — it’s selling your house; I want to see the house. I want to be in the house. VR technology of presence being the house. No brainer, right? Well, actually, no. And people in real estate right now, they’re focused on interactive, meaning that the interactive part of the VR is great. And so interactive presentation of condos, building developments, and on a large number of platforms. So you want to show them in your big interactive screen, a table, in a sales center or you want to have it on your iPhone or iPad, obviously, and you want to do the VR.
Alan: VR headsets are dropping in price. But it still comes down to the fact that every single person has a phone in their pocket.
Alan: Just from a scale perspective, being able to use AR technology on a mobile device, and the stat that I keep reading is there’ll be over two billion smartphones that are AR enabled by the end of. This year. That’s real scale.
Terry: [chuckles] Yep.
Alan: If we’re looking at mobile phone-based things, what are some of the coolest things you’ve seen on mobile phone-based AR? I just saw one the other day that was, you could put the Space Shuttle in your backyard in real size.
Terry: You do have a lot of AR apps at the moment. Let me think. Well, I’m a big fan of the try-ons.
Alan: Yeah, I love it. I wrote a whole article on this.
Terry: Yeah, I saw it, and I like, for instance, at AWE, there was this company and the CEO was basically barefoot for the whole show — not kidding — because he was doing a demo of their iPhone try-on and for some reason they needed to not have shoes. [laughs] And so you take your phone and you see your sneakers. You can select the colors and everything. And I must say, it’s a really compelling experience, because when you’re buying shoes online, you never really know — especially the designs, the colors or whatever — seeing it on you like this, it’s much more than gimmick; it’s really useful.
Alan: Yeah. No. You’re absolutely right, and I think Google just rolled out this virtual try-ons right in the Google Lens and everybody’s starting to work on it, which is pretty interesting. There’s a whole bunch. There’s makeup, watches, shoes, glasses, hats, beards — see what a beard looks like on you.
Terry: I was talking to also — it’s funny; the same week of AWE, I was talking to a partner, and she was getting engaged, and I told her about the try-ons. And so she was super excited about the jewellery try-ons. And she’s obviously a woman. And she was like, “oh, my God, you can try and you can see on your iPhone. And, wow, I need your address. Send me your address like right now.” Once again, it all comes down to the case study. She doesn’t care it’s AR or VR; she gets what she gets out of it.
Alan: Exactly. And it’s interesting you pointed it out, because Snapchat uses AR all the time and for everything, for face filters and real world filters and stuff like this. But nowhere do they mention the words “augmented reality.”
Terry: Yeah. But, you know, I think it’s one of those things… I really liked an analogy of the world of AR and VR right now. And it was like, you know what? I think we’re kind of the Web, circa 2003 or something, when people were building websites. And back in 2003, when you were asking someone, it’s like, “what are you doing?” “Well, I’m doing a dot com.” “What is your website? What is it doing?” “We don’t care so much. I have a website; it’s amazing!”
Alan: “What do you mean? I do AR!”
Terry: Exactly! You see where I’m going. And now it’s kind of the same like “hey, I’m doing VR!” “Yeah, but what are you doing?” “Yeah, I don’t care so much, but I’m doing VR,” or “I’m doing AR!” And at the end of the day now, yeah, of course you have a website. Amazing. Extraordinary. Everyone has a website. We don’t care about the website. We care about what’s going on on the website.
Alan: Exactly. By the way, if anybody is listening to this and wants to learn, we have a website!
Terry: Alan, we have two websites.
Alan: Oooohh! What are your websites? You have virtualrealitymarketing.com; what’s the other one?
Terry: Virtualrealitymarketing.com. And we have uberealagency.com, and that’s the consulting for studios. So two fully-functional websites.
Alan: Holy moly! You are way ahead of the game! [laughs] We also have our pitch for XR Ignite, which is actually in VR and AR as well. Through a platform called VRAVO.
Terry: And that’s something that’s very interesting I’d like to pick on, is that I find that one of the best ways to evangelize about AR and VR is actually using it.
Alan: You think?
Terry: Yeah. But, you know, it’s so funny in what we do, it’s all about the simple things. But so many people overlook the simple. Everyone is like, “AR and VR, it’s so amazing and everything.” You know what? How about we actually use it? One of our clients, they are this Finland company called Glue and they’ve got this amazing remote presence tech. And they really strive to do their meetings in Glue with their tech.
Alan: Yeah, yeah. Kalle was on our show.
Terry: Oh, OK. So, yeah, you know them. Small world. But things are amazing. I think what’s out there is beautiful. I had a blast playing with the tech at AWE. AWE was the place to be this year.
Alan: It was amazing. There was, I think, 6,000 people they said this year?
Terry: I don’t know, but you felt like everyone was there.
Alan: By far and away, it is probably the most important VR/AR conference in the world. Mainly focused on augmented reality, but–
Terry: A lot of VR as well.
Alan: When I was there I said to somebody, “if this building collapses, the entire VR industry is gone.”
Alan: This year I ran the startup track, and I did a panel on supercharging your marketing, actually, with the head of XR for Nestle, Richard, and Mohammed from Macy’s, and Jason Yim from Trigger Global. And there was one more I can remember off my head. But yeah, it was really amazing. This year was just a beautiful experience, getting to meet you and seeing what you think of all my friends. It was really cool.
Terry: Yeah. Ours was the same. We’ve got clients everywhere. In the US, in Europe, as far back as Finland. And you’re on the floor, and you have everyone. And you– all those people that you connect on the phone away from everything, you can shake hands again. And just that was– And most importantly, the density of smart, talented, dedicated, passionate people. The density of conversations that you have, really interesting conversations. You turn your back and, “Oh, yeah. So we are doing this and that.” That was amazing.
Alan: Yeah. Every single person you met was doing something revolutionary.
Alan: I got home and it took me three days to write my post report.
Terry: [laughs] I’m surprised.
Alan: Yeah, I met over 100 people in this short amount of time. So anybody listening, go to Augmented World Expo. It’s definitely worth going to next year. And I think there’s another one in Europe, as well.
Terry: There is one in Europe, I think like Q3, like September or something.
Alan: And then there’s a VR Days in Amsterdam as well, which is coming up, I think in October, I’ll be speaking at that. And that one’s another great one.
So let’s get back to use cases for a second, because one of the things that I’m starting to see — and maybe you’re seeing it as well — is, like the virtual try-ons, we’re starting to move over to more utilitarian use cases of this technology. One of them that I thought was really cool was, I believe it’s Dulux, the paint company. They figured out how to segment your walls. You can put your phone on the wall and change the paint colors and they look real depending even on the lighting that’s in your room. So you can see it in the daylight and see what it looks like, and then see it at night. Being able to do that, that’s an impressive use case.
Terry: You’re talking about something really important right there. Back when VR really started in 2015-16, everybody was super focused on entertainment, games, and all the things you can do with it. And I’m not saying games are uninteresting. You can do plenty of things with games and everything. But the business side of things was, “it’s business; it’s boring.” Turns out, right now the most successful companies in VR tend to be solving mission-critical problems for their clients and business, so a lot of those utilitarian cases. And what we like best — what I personally liked best — is that you can do smart and you can do sexy, if you want to. Meaning that, you can be utilitarian, but especially with VR, you can do it in an exciting and engaging and just cool way. And that’s great, because the cooler or the more exciting your utilitarian app is going to be, the more people will want to use it, the more it is going to solve problem for plenty of people. We want more of that, and there’s money doing that.
Alan: Yeah, absolutely. The Triple A gaming market is what people expect now. They expect that level of quality. So we have to — everybody, the whole industry — has to step up their game to create experiences that not only solve problems, but wow people.
What is the most important thing businesses can do right now to leveraging the power of XR? What would you recommend as their first step?
Terry: Very simple. It’s the same first step for everything: it’s get started now. It’s always about the simple next step you can do to get started and for a lot of people — especially with XR — it’s very intimidating. We’ve talked about this many times. And no matter where the company is, now we live in this world where it’s not so much about “eh, XR. Is it a fad? This is going to go.” It’s here to stay. And no matter what you do, it’s going to probably help your business.
So now it’s all about, you know, get started. Get your hands dirty. Build a project, doesn’t have to be big. And build your own understanding and experience, fully understand the impact, the ROI, the benefits for your company. Because it’s not going to be the same as for this other company, this other [garbled]. So it’s all about you. And become smarter, become more efficient through VR and then you repeat the process. And with each new step, you get bigger and more ambitious, but it’s all about the first step. Get started.
Alan: That’s some great advice. So, last question: What problem in the world do you want to see solved using XR technologies?
Terry: We did talk a lot about training and I’m going to talk again about training and education. I think VR is great at helping people understand the world better and understand others better. And I also think that, on the other hand, ignorance is often the root of fear. And knowledge and understanding is often helping to connect with people, and I think that right now in this world we could use more of that.
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